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Early Single-Sport Specialization: A Survey of 3090 High School, Collegiate, and Professional Athletes.


ABSTRACT: Youth participation in organized sports in the United States is rising, with many athletes focusing on a single sport at an increasingly younger age.To retrospectively compare single-sport specialization in current high school (HS), collegiate, and professional athletes with regard to the rate and age of specialization, the number of months per year of single-sport training, and the athlete's perception of injury related to specialization.Cross-sectional study; Level of evidence, 3.A survey was distributed to HS, collegiate, and professional athletes prior to their yearly preparticipation physical examination. Athletes were asked whether they had chosen to specialize in only 1 sport, and data were then collected pertaining to this decision.A total of 3090 athletes completed the survey (503 HS, 856 collegiate, and 1731 professional athletes). A significantly greater percentage of current collegiate athletes specialized to play a single sport during their childhood/adolescence (45.2% of HS athletes, 67.7% of collegiate athletes, and 46.0% of professional athletes; P < .001). The age of single-sport specialization differed between groups and occurred at a mean age of 12.7 ± 2.4 (HS), 14.8 ± 2.5 (collegiate), and 14.1 ± 2.8 years (professional) (P < .001). Current HS (39.9%) and collegiate athletes (42.1%) recalled a statistically greater incidence of sport-related injury than current professional athletes (25.4%) (P < .001). The majority (61.7%) of professional athletes indicated that they believed specialization helps the athlete play at a higher level, compared with 79.7% of HS and 80.6% of collegiate athletes (P < .001). Notably, only 22.3% of professional athletes said they would want their own child to specialize to play only 1 sport during childhood/adolescence.This study provides a foundation for understanding current trends in single-sport specialization in all athletic levels. Current HS athletes specialized, on average, 2 years earlier than current collegiate and professional athletes surveyed. These data challenge the notion that success at an elite level requires athletes to specialize in 1 sport at a very young age.

SUBMITTER: Buckley PS 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC5536378 | BioStudies | 2017-01-01

SECONDARY ACCESSION(S): 10.1177/2325967117703944

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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